Ode to Venice Before the Sea of Theaters (from Arde el mar, 1966)
The false cups, the poison, and the skull
Of the theaters.
The sea has its mechanics as love has its symbols.
With what racket the red curtain rises
Or in this proscenium above an empty stage
Sounds a rumor of statues, iris fronds, cutlasses,
Doves that descend and softly alight.
A chessboard of verdure, composed of cravats.
The blight on my cheek recollects time past
And in my heart seethes a droplet of lead.
My hand was to my breast, the clock corroborates
The reason for the clouds and the stiffening of their sails.
A rising tide, roses on tightropes
Over the voltaic arc of Venice’s night
That year of my lost youth,
Marble on the Dogana, as Pound has remarked
And the table of a casket in the density of the canals.
Go on, much further, deep inside the night,
Over the ducal tapestry, shadows interwoven,
Princes or nereids laid waste by time.
What purity, a nude or an ephebe deceased
In the boundless halls of clouded reminiscence.
Was I there? Must I believe I was he,
And he the suffering impaling my flesh?
How fragile I was then, and why.
Is it true
You differ, snowflakes, in the snowcapped park,
The one that today harbors your love on its face
Or the one that died there in Venice of beauty?
The live stones speak of a memory present.
As the vein impels its conduits of blood,
It comes, leaves, returns to the planet,
And life thus expands in the silence of tenters,
The past is affirmed at this uncertain hour.
So much have I written, so much I wrote then. I don’t know
If it was worth it or is. You, for whom
My life is more certain, and you others,
Who hear in my verse a discrepant sphere, will know its signet or art.
Speak it, you, or speak it, you others, and sweetly, perchance,
Beguile my sorrow. Night, night in Venice
Five years now, how so long? I am
Who I was then, I know how to tauten, let pure beauty
Wound me as then, violin
That slices in two a night in summer
When the world has foundered beneath its impatience
For beauty. I cried, and rested my elbows on the balcony
As in a hackneyed romantic poem, and the air
Engendered disturbances of blue smoke and camphor.
It rowed in the alcoves, beneath the damp granite,
An archangel or swallow or courser of flames
That the aftermost powers dispatched to my dream.
I cried, I cried, I cried.
And how could it be so lovely and so sad?
Water, cold ruby, diabolic transparency
Burned in my flesh a tattoo of light.
Frozen night, blazing night, night of my own
As if I lived it today! It is somber and sweet
To have left behind Venice where we all
Were punished by being so young,
And to chase us today through the cavernous chambers
Surrounded by horsemen dissolved by a mirror
Negating, with their double, the truth of this poem.
Lay (from Castell de puresa, 2014)
Farewell, to you, my delectation…
If, for such affliction and so many gems
We’ve learned nothing but to live askance
Ever igniting approximate fires,
The sibyl of the waters in the grotto,
Mineral words, damp in mute light,
If with so many honed adzes
We’ve learned naught but to speak words of darkness,
Plowing the field, rich with eyes, of the gloom
The gold with the spectacles of the night,
We’ve learned but to utter the absent snow,
For so many desiccated gales,
If we’ve known to abstain from the snow
As the rook abstains from the word
If we are naught but the thumb of the snow,
Aimed at the rock of parched light,
Light-parched, snow-parched, and there in the word
We know to speak splendor ablaze in its cages,
As the moribund nightingale states
When the mares of the darkness shall come.
If for so many censures and conquests
The territory cannot shatter the wasteland,
In the vineyard of the country of air,
Like the barrens of the bristling water
The catafalque of conflagrated clarity,
The church submerged in Nostalghia,
The harlequinade of clarity,
If we know not what utters absolution
Of dead air, of air buffered by wind,
The plutonic blister of air,
Still we know that to live is the Latin
The bird spoke that chanted to Percival,
It is the melodious Latin in the foliage,
It is the trilling of luminance
(love: the trilling of luminance),
We know it all, like Chrétien de Troyes
Or Carlos Riba, we know it all, we clasp
The burning air of obstinacy,
The flickering wick of the bomb
That scorches our hand, the chloratite flashes
Of Red Brigades in the Siennese night; Etruscan light
Of Etruscan masks in search of the absolute,
The intransigent light of the morning,
The dawn and the night of our love, life:
A red kerchief daubed with blood.
Signs (from Mirall, espais i aparicions: Poesía 1970-1980)
The world is an allegory.
Cabalistic the design
By which the sky absolves
The bird, a substanceless shadow.
Nothing: just a scratch
In the tranquil uniformity
Of the clarified sky.
Clearings! The region
Hides another, concealed
In an invisible script.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Alma Venus has just been published in English by Antilever Press, and his novel Fortuny will be released in 2015 by David R. Godine.
Adrian Nathan West is a writer and translator based in the United States and Spain. His recent translations include Pere Gimferrer’s Alma Venus and Austrian Büchner Prizewinner Josef Winkler’s Natura Morta: a Roman Novella. He lives with the cinema critic Beatriz Leal Riesco.